Sunday, October 9, 2011

The United States: The Half-Hearted Empire

What is the plan-book for the United States' military success in Iraq or Afghanistan or indeed anywhere else?

The only example of successful intervention is the Roman one. Everyone else failed. This includes the British, the Persians, and Russians, all of whom had powerful empires of relatively brief duration.

How does one build an empire that lasts a thousand years? One starts by studying the Romans, whose Republic was the model for the government of the United States. Are you still with me?

The Romans...

  1. Had perfect belief in their power, cultural superiority, and moral rightness
  2. Had sufficient wealth to build a great army and navy
  3. Had sufficient population of men willing and able to fight 
  4. Had outstanding leadership in the army and navy, and ability to promote from within the ranks
  5. Had an army that could dominate populations through its exertion of threat and highly organized professional and technical capability
  6. Had a well established bureaucratic program for subsuming conquered lands into the empire
  7. Had no qualms about meting out the severest punishment in order to promote its agenda of stability and submission to Rome
That, my dears, is how it's done.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What's possible for Israel and Palestine?

I'm not an optimist. I strive to be a realist. I would like to recognize where people are coming from, what's the concern that they have, in their heart of hearts; how is that translated into action, and expressed in beliefs and deeds; what contradictions and conflicts lurk there. I lived in Israel between 1970 and 1972, age 12-14. I recommend to every American to live in a foreign country for some significant period of time; it does one a world of good, to gain perspective by seeing one's own country, and one's own culture, from the outside.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: A Dance With Dragons

Meaty, beaty, big, and bouncy! Plenty of the usual Martin juiciness in character, interactions, schemes, and events. Brutality and suffering are well in evidence, side by side with hope and sincerity.

Alas, I start to tire of the cliff-hanger formula for each chapter. I would like to follow each story line farther, with fewer interruptions. Is this device so necessary? It's typical of a modern TV dramatic series. More than five major story lines are juggled in the air, and there are some important new characters. But their coming together is still mostly anticipated.

A Dance with Dragons left me with more questions than answers. It's a giant "coming next season!" promotional trailer.

I listened to the previous books on audio book. They are read beautifully and powerfully by Roy Dotrice, with the exception of A Feast of Crows, which is very unpleasantly read by a different narrator, and should be avoided. As audio books, they are marvelously effective, although it can be challenging without the aid of maps and appendices of characters, to remember who is who. On the other hand, a superb narrator helps one get the feeling of each character, story line and situation. There is a richness of consciousness in the voice which helps one absorb the story. Roy Dotrice is phenomenal.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones: Season 1

 Sean Bean as Eddard Stark. Perfect in every way.
I had been looking forward avidly to this HBO adaptation of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Well, to tell the truth, I was a bit put off by the extreme hoopla. There is such a thing as over-promotion. I'm sufficiently bored with marketing antics to not pay much attention to them. It tends to inspire disgust. Though I did think the food wagon was a nifty idea. Too bad I don't live in New York City -- I sometimes say that to myself, living out here in the cultural boondocks of Charlottesville. But, as I rarely leave the house, it matters little.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Review: The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed is a murmuring tale whose circular, interwoven structure echoes Shevek’s paradigm-shifting research into temporal physics while examining the moral consequences of two interlocked societies, one capitalist, the other communist.

The setting is the twin worlds of Urras and Anarres, each of which looms in the sky as the other’s moon; a symbolical relationship. Urras, a land of abundant resources and beauty, is the homeworld. Anarres, in contrast, is a dry, geographically dull, inhospitable place whose people work hard to survive.

Shevek is a brilliant theoretical physicist born on Anarres, which was colonized by the followers of Odo who abandoned Urras many centuries ago to found their own revolutionary anarchic society on Anarres. The reader is initially perplexed by the structure of the book, which alternates chapters form Shevek’s early life with chapters from his later life, written as if they were happening in the present time, telling parallel stories of this one man’s origins and later development. After a few such chapters the reader grasps the format and climbs happily onboard, and soon glimpses the rationale for this structure, as Shevek lays the mathematical groundwork for understanding the non-linearity of time, and thus proving the feasibility of time travel. His intellectual passion leads him toward political heresy in both Anarres, and later, Urras. Finally, he performs the first act in bringing Urras and Anarres together, collapsing their distance as his tale arrives full circle, at his simultaneous departure and arrival.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Review: The Bards of Bone Plain

Author: Patricia A. McKillip
Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 329
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: The Penguin Group
Pub. Date: Dec. 7, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0441019571
Rating: 8 out of 10

The Bards of Bone Plain is a lyrical fantasy that melds a remote, legendary past with a steam-driven modernity. The author, Patricia A. McKillip, neatly weaves an unfolding plot, populated with believable, attractive people, written with solid characterization and motivation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Speculative Fiction Online: Short Stories

Fantasy_and_SciFiLovers of speculative fiction — elf watchers, sorcery buffs, space nerds, zombie huggers, apocalypse prophets — fantasists and science fiction lovers of all stripes — can find plenty of fiction online to sate an appetite for shorter works at a low price, or no price at all. Short fiction is one of the best ways for new authors to be published and recognized. You can feel the thrill of discovering talented authors before they’re well known. Online publishing has lowered the cost for a writer to reach a reader, and while there is a great range of quality in the fiction available online, I think you’ll find that the sources linked below have a lot to offer the discerning reader.

The idea for this post had its genesis in my happy discovery of Torque Control’s Short Story Club, mentioned by Yet There Are Statues, Matt Hilliard’s intelligent, articulate blog of reviews of science fiction and fantasy books. Torque Control is the blog of the editorial staff of Vector, the journal of the British Science Fiction Association, and it has a lively, thoughtful, active following of writers and sci-fi enthusiasts who engage in respectfully pointed discussions. It’s a pity that the site design is barely adequate; I discern a limited WordPress theme that is not being used to full advantage. On the other side of the pond we have the glitzier Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, but unfortunately, for the purposes of this article, there I did not find links to free and inexpensive online writing, although I did find an interesting link to online fantasy and science fiction writing workshops at Odyssey.
The Torque Control Short Story Club selections link to a glorious plethora of online sci-fi and fantasy journals, and for the benefit of our readers here, I’d like to share these discoveries and more. Please add links in the comments to recommend additional resources, or comment on these selections.